Be Your Own Barista

verve coffee

An expensive latte. Not from Starbucks, but still overpriced and deserving of photographic documentation.

In another lifetime (otherwise known as the autumn of my sophomore year of college) I worked part-time at Starbucks. Between taking drive-through orders on the headset, handling all manner of boiling liquids, and generally just being a new barista during craziness of The Season of Red Holiday Cups, I was not the speediest nor most graceful person to have making those $4 lattes.   A bull in a china shop might not be an unfair comparison.

When I turned in my notice after only three months, no one was more overjoyed than yours truly.

(Partly because it meant my hair would stop smelling like stale coffee for the first time since September.)

However, I escaped the trenches of corporate coffee with a few tricks up my sleeve.  Not those “secret menu drinks only the cool cats know” type of tricks – although, for the record, a pumpkin spice frappucino made with egg nog is as delicious as it is likely to send you into a hyperglycemic episode (as in, very) – but more like “how to make your own trashed up coffee drinks at home.” Espresso machine and diabetes not included.  

gold card

So maybe I didn’t get out of my coffee-pimpin’ days totally unscathed. This little thing makes me feel like I’m part of an exclusive secret society- “Coffee Whores Not-So-Anonymous.”

Of course, nothing beats a strong cup of black coffee – or, as I call it, “cowboy style.”  But we’re all friends here, so let’s be honest.  Sometimes, you just need a good cup of trashed-up coffee.  Sometimes, it’s cold outside and you’re a little bored  and a lot broke and you don’t want to change out of your frumpalicious person-of-Walmart clothes and actually go somewhere. In that case, a hot cup of sweet, creamy, caffeine-y goodness is just what you need.  It’ll cure the single-lady-blues, or a Grinch-like spirit, or whatever else may ail you, in as long as it takes to down your first sip.*

The Insider’s Guide to Homemade Holiday Drinks

healthier, cheaper, and you can add as much rum as you’d like

Enormous mug optional, but highly recommended.  And i got this sucker for free, because I'm a pirate like that (to be clear, that's NOT a shoplifting reference.  It was a finder's keeper's kind of shenanigan.)

Enormous mug optional, but highly recommended. And i got this sucker for free, because I’m a pirate like that (to be clear, that’s NOT a shoplifting reference. It was a finder’s keeper’s kind of shenanigan.)

The Materials

For each of the drinks, you will need the following basic ingredients (amounts are to your taste preference):

  • espresso or strong coffee (in my opinion, the darker the better!), depending on which you prefer and/or whether you have an espresso machine
  • milk and/or cream (or dairy-free substitute)
  • sweetener (sugar and/or stevia work best)

You don’t necessarily need these, but it will make your coffee-making experience twice as nice:

  • milk steamer or frothing wand
  • fresh whipped cream (none of this junk from a spray can…mama’s got standards, and so do you)
  • quality travel mug (seriously, because bringing one of these bad boys on your morning commute will rock your socks off)

The Methods

The steps for each drink are more or less the same.
Ratio of milk : espresso (or milk : coffee) depends on your taste.  I normally do 2 parts coffee : 1 part milk.

  1. Brew coffee/pull espresso shots.
  2. Add the designated fixin’s to a half-mug of milk.  Use a milk steamer if you have it, otherwise, be ghetto-fab resourceful and throw a half-mug of moo-moo-juice in the microwave and then put that frothing wand to work (if you have one, but microwaved milk will still do you good either way).
  3. Pour the hot milk mixture over the espresso/coffee and get your draank on.
    3a.  You can make any of these drinks iced by simply mixing the fixin’s into the hot coffee/espresso and letting that mixture cool (hint: shove that puppy in the freezer for an hour) then mixing with your milk of choice and pouring over ice.  

The Magic:

The following fixin’ suggestions are for a single serving.  Of course, “single serving” is relative…mama takes drinking coffee seriously.

Peppermint Mocha

  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 or 3 drops peppermint extract (be careful – use too much and it’ll be like you’re drinking toothpaste)
  • 2 drops vanilla extract
  • sweetener to taste
  • variation: leave out peppermint extract for a regular mocha

Eggnog Latte

  • replace milk with eggnog (or soy-nog for you non-dairy folks) and steam/froth as normal
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • sweetener to taste (remember, the eggnog alone will already make this considerably sweet)

Caramel Latte

  • 1/2 teaspoon caramel extract
  • 2 drops vanilla extract
  • sweetener to taste
  • variations: add 1 teaspoon cocoa powder OR a sprinkle  of sea salt OR both

Chai Latte

  • *** For traditional chai,  just use milk + tea and omit coffee.  For a “dirty chai,” use a nearly-full mug of milk and add one shot of espresso.***
  • 4 oz (or half-mug) brewed black tea, very strong
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon each: cardamom + cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon each: ground cloves + allspice + star anise
  • tiny pinch each: ground ginger + finely ground black pepper
  • sweetener to taste
  • pixie-size sprinkle of sea salt (optional)
  • [lazy] variation: just buy chai concentrate and mix with steamed milk.  I like Tazo’s version for the spiciness and Oregon Chai’s sugar-free version for the carcinogens (Please don’t go there – if you can’t handle the calories, you can’t handle the chai.)

Gingerbread Latte

  • 1/2 teaspoon molasses
  • 1/4 teaspoon each: cinnamon + ground ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • sweetener to taste

Pumpkin Maple Latte

  • 1 tablespoon pumpkin puree
  • 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (OR the following: 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon + large pinch ground ginger + large pinch nutmeg + tiny pinch allspice + tiny pinch ground cloves)
  • sweetener to taste (keep in mind that the maple syrup will already add a bit of sweetness)

Sugar Cookie Steamer

  • ***Omit coffee***
  • 2 bags Celestial Seasonings Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride Tea, brewed in 4 oz boiling water
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon caramel extract
  • sweetener to taste

Best Hot Cocoa of Your Life

  • ***Omit coffee and use a full mug of milk [or keep it, and turn this into the Best Mocha of Your Life…your choice]***
  •  2 teaspoons cocoa powder
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • tiny pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk (or sweetener to taste…but really, try the condensed milk first.  Game changer.)
  • 2 tablespoons dark chocolate chips (place in bottom of mug and pour hot milk mixture over)

And finally, for those of you who live somewhere like Florida or Peru or California, where Christmas time is a balmy 65 degrees Fahrenheit and looks like this:

cali Christmas

In California, we don’t know what “white Christmas” means. We assume it’s a reference to a lack of racial diversity, and we can sue you for that, damn it.

Yeah, I’m not always feeling a hot cuppa, either.  I discovered this from Ree Drummond’s blog this past spring and it rocked my iced-coffee world.   Speaking of which, she is hilarious, and you should read not only her blog but her book, as well. With a glass of this sweet draaank in hand, because it’s only fitting.

 Vietnamese Iced Coffee (via Pioneer Woman)

  •  strong iced coffee (I brew a pot of regular and stick a glass in the refrigerator overnight)
  • 2 tablespoons (or to taste) sweetened condensed milk
  • milk or dairy-free substitute
  • ice for days
  • notes: this mixes easiest if you can stir the condensed milk into the coffee while it’s hot, then chill that mixture before adding milk and ice…as for the milk, I like it best with 2% cow milk, but since putting my dairy-consuming days behind me, I’ve found that plain soymilk is the next best thing.

I know you weren’t expecting an early Christmas gift…but hey, Chanukkah has already started!
Mazel tov, and happy brewing!

*Or possibly faster than that, if you choose to add copious amounts of brandy/Bailey’s/your-liquor-of-choice to your mug. (I won’t tell.)

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3 thoughts on “Be Your Own Barista

  1. Domi – you are an Excellent writer my dear – plus you are an absolute HOOT! Please tell your mom I left my Terrible Folsom Job 3 weeks ago for a much better one in Natomas with the hopes of getting hired on after the probationary period. Any-who, not to change subject, you really MUST look into that BIT STRIP app and create one for yourself for your great blog, eat,pray,lift…I’m envisioning you with pumped up biceps (but not overly BULKY of course) with big hair and a big smile for your character. You know what I’m talking about right?? Those Bit Strip things people are doing on Facebook all of a sudden? Any-who, I’m killing time after work, (I depart at 4:30) before my 6:15 Tap class over in Curtis Park. Oh and tell Claire thanks for the photo from her mission trip – I’m forwarding it to Laura. We’ll all be in SB for the week of Xmas. Can’t wait. HO HO HO ~ Mrs. Lewis

    1. Aw, thanks, Mrs. Lewis! 🙂 I’ve seen those bit strips, I’ll have to figure out how to make one. I’ll pass the news along to my mom, I’m sure she’d love to get all the girls together for lunch sometime, too!
      Hope you and the crew are well! xo

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